- Associated Press - Monday, January 22, 2018

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson met on Monday with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the potential return of Rohingya Muslim refugees chased out of Myanmar by the military in what the United Nations has called “textbook ethnic cleansing.” Richardson has said he’ll also press her government to release two detained Myanmar journalists who had been covering the crisis.

It was not immediately clear what, if anything, was decided in the meeting in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw. The Rohingya exodus, and the mass killings and rapes that the refugees say occurred before they fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state, have drawn global condemnation and brought widespread criticism of Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate once seen as a champion of human rights.

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration, has a history of negotiating with governments hostile to the United States, including North Korea and Iraq, and freeing imprisoned Americans.

He and Surakiart Sathirathai, a former Thai foreign minister, are part of a 10-member advisory board working to implement Rohingya recommendations made earlier by a group headed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In a dry statement released after the meeting, Suu Kyi’s office said everyone “exchanged views and opinions to implement the recommendations.”

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled their homes in the northern part of Rakhine in response to military “clearing operations” that followed attacks by a militant Rohingya group on police on Aug. 25.

Some of the refugees, living in awful conditions in makeshift refugee camps in Bangladesh, had been scheduled to return Tuesday to Myanmar under an agreement the two countries signed in November. But the gradual repatriation has been delayed amid widespread fears that they are being forced to return, a Bangladesh official said Monday. Rohingya refugees and rights groups have expressed serious reservations about returning to Myanmar.

On Tuesday, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo face a court hearing in Yangon. The two were arrested Dec. 12 after police said they violated a colonial-era law by acquiring “important secret papers” from two policemen.

Rights and media groups have criticized Myanmar’s civilian government led by Suu Kyi for continuing to use laws that were favored by the military junta that previously ruled the country to muzzle critics.

The journalists face a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. It was not immediately clear what will happen at the hearing, but the journalists’ lawyer previously submitted a request for bail.

Rohingya Muslims have long been treated as outsiders in largely Buddhist Myanmar, derided as “Bengalis,” illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

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